Could standing at Carrow Road be the way forward?
The issue of whether supporters should be allowed to stand at major football grounds has been a highly controversial one since the 1980s, in particular due to the Hillsborough tragedy.
In the aftermath of the deaths of 96 fans, a Lord Justice Taylor investigation recommended compulsory all-seating for all professional football grounds, which was later confined to just the top two divisions.
More than two decades later it is pretty much universally known the horrible events of those days had not been caused by terracing, but largely due to crowd mismanagement by the South Yorkshire police, both before and after the disaster, and the fences at the front of the Leppings Lane end.
Despite this, so strong is the shadow that Hillsborough continues to cast over the English game, due in part to the woeful inability of the powers that be to give answers to the bereaved families, the sport’s bosses and football clubs themselves have been understandably reluctant to revisit the debate over standing.
However, it seems only natural that, as time moves on and clubs look to ways to keep bringing fans in through the turnstiles during a tough economic period, the idea may be one that clubs come back to.
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This has proved to be the case recently, with the Scottish Premier League the first to moot the idea, inviting bids from those clubs interested in such a move.
And a few weeks ago Aston Villa became the first Premier League club to say they were looking into the possibility of introducing a safe section at Villa Park.
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This got me wondering whether our own chief executive David McNally is watching how that develops with keen interest, or even drawing up plans of his own, as he grapples with how to make the most of our recent rise?
There would be advantages and disadvantages to such a move taking place at Carrow Road.
With a controversial move out of town, as carried out at other Premier League clubs, previously ruled out, the club are faced with making do with the land they have.
Plans have previously been mooted to increase capacity to 35,000 by putting a second tier on the Geoffrey Watling City Stand, but providing a safe standing area could possibly enable such an increase to happen at a quicker pace, with less disruption. In the long run it could also prove to be less of a business risk should, heaven forbid, the club’s current bubble burst.
It could also prove popular with those fans who would like to stand at games, and those who don’t.
Currently a large proportion of supporters, especially in the Barclay End or Snake Pit, stand anyway, whatever the game and whatever the person behind them wants to do.
So often it provides a problem for stewards and so often I hear grumbles or arguments between those who want to sit and those who want to stand.
If there was a designated standing area, such arguments simply wouldn’t take place. You either get a ticket in the standing area, sit down or get evicted by a steward.
Other positives could include better atmosphere and, if cheaper tickets were offered, the fact you are less likely to price people on lower incomes out of supporting the team they love.
The overriding factor has to be safety though, and it is hard to argue with the fact that attending games is safer now than ever before. Families feel so much happier attending matches.
Those in favour of the move point to evidence from the Bundesliga in Germany, where standing areas are allowed, lower league football in the UK and top-flight rugby clubs such as St Helens, to highlight that standing can be safe.
However, while top-flight football continues to be as popular as it is, such a sea change seems unlikely to happen. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Clubs must also know that were they to be the first to reintroduce standing, and something awful did happen to compromise supporter safety, they would simply have no defence.
And, speaking to Mr McNally about the issue yesterday afternoon, that view tallies with the one at the club at this moment in time. Quite simply it’s a debate that isn’t even on the table.
Furthermore neither the Premier League, UEFA or FIFA is looking to introduce safe standing areas within top-flight grounds. In fact, both UEFA and FIFA stipulate the requirement for all-seater stadia.
And for as long as this is the case, it seems unlikely the likes of the Scottish Premier League, Aston Villa, or Norwich, will take the idea forward – should they even be minded to do so.
• Can’t wait for this Saturday’s game. It’s one of those matches you look out for at the start of the season and make a mental note not to miss. For me, if we can win this one, it doesn’t matter that we were below par at Blackburn, it won’t really matter what happens in the final two games. This would be the cherry on top of what has been an awesome season.
• I know the defeat was hard to take, but the banter between Norwich and Manchester City fans last week meant the day was actually quite enjoyable. Despite what I had expected when we returned to the Premier League, so many clubs this season have come to Carrow Road and barely raised a song or two. And I’m sure I’m not being biased when I say this is not true of Canaries fans on the road. Hopefully we’ll see some of that famous Scouse banter in action this weekend.
• Now here’s something you might not be aware of, but the original Premier League charter of 2000 stated that clubs should change their kits every other season at most. The same was recommended in a government review in 1997, with the intention that families weren’t ripped off. But of course it’s not the league which holds all the power, but the clubs themselves. They simply ignored this, and went on releasing them season after season. Commercially I can see why chief executive David McNally feels the need to follow suit, claiming the club cannot be put at a “commercial disadvantage” by not doing so. But would it have made that much of a financial difference to wait a year, when the riches from staying in the Premier League are so widely acclaimed? The club definitely missed out on a positive PR opportunity by not ignoring the example of its fellow top-flight teams and doing families a favour by holding off for another year.
• So often the facts can disprove the theories of the modern day football fan. For instance many a Norwich fan bemoans Lambert’s “chop and change policy”, though strangely only when we lose. But in reality, only Wigan have named an unchanged line-up more than Norwich. Twelve times to be precise, compared to our eight. Winger Elliott Bennett, meanwhile, is someone I often hear people complaining is “unprepared to get stuck into tackles”. In reality he made six successful tackles on Saturday, the joint highest in the Premier League. For me that’s another sign that he’s getting used to life in the top flight.